Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the
work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to
do wasn't going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never
hitched up the big sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Pa was
already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him.
The cold was already biting at me. I wasn't happy. When I was on, Pa pulled
the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off
and I followed. "I think we'll put on the high sideboards," he said. "Here,
help me." The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to
do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do
would be a lot bigger with the high sideboards on. When we had exchanged the
sideboards Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of
wood---the wood I'd spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and
then all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I
something. "Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?" "You been by the Widow
Jensen's lately?" he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the
road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three
children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by, but so what? "Yeah," I
said, "why?" "I rode by just today," Pa said. "Little Jake was out digging
around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood,
Matt." That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the
woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him.
We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be
able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went to
the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed
them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned
he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack
of something in his left hand. "What's in the little sack?" I asked. "Shoes.
They're out of shoes. Little Jake just had gunny sacks wrapped around his
feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a
little candy too. It just wouldn't be Christmas without a little candy."
We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's pretty much in silence. I tried to
think through what Pa was doing. We didn't have much by worldly standards.
Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was
still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split
before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that,
but I knew we didn't have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and
candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer
neighbors than us. It shouldn't have been our concern.